Photo credit: http://www.ahymsin.org
Today, as I study an online course for aspiring missionaries, I am reminded of what an SDA pastor shared with us that made us realize why, despite our efforts and best intentions, some Christian missions fail.
He said a Chinese missionary first went to Tibet to convert the locals into Christianity but failed because he didn’t know the local dialect and just depended on an interpreter to convey the gospel message for a few weeks of classroom-like lectures. Seeing how remote the villages were, he did not immerse himself into the local culture but just asked someone to bring some local folk to where he was staying, apparently in the town proper. After a series of lectures, around 20 villagers were “baptized” but he found out later that they didn’t understand anything he preached.
Afterwards, a Christian couple tried to live in the village to spread God’s word but they kept on criticizing the local beliefs and customs. They often said Buddha is bad and Jesus is good. They only succeeded in antagonizing the villagers.
Other Christian missions followed but very few converted.
The Tibetan “spirituality” is apparent in every fabric of their life. Millions pray around a sacred spot all year round, prostrating on the road, writing down their prayers on flags and living a simple, peaceful life.
Their focus is not on satisfying their desires but getting rid of them. They don’t fight suffering, they accept it as a part of life, an opportunity to learn and grow. They do not assume they know the truth, rather they seek it.
The pastor went on to say that he was not offended by the Tibetan “sky burial” – a religious practice of chopping up their loved one’s body and feeding the body parts to vultures so that the person, in their belief, can have a happy journey up in the heavens.
To us, such practice is barbaric but to them, it is sacred. Pilgrims prostrate on the road for years asking that they be reincarnated in the next life as a human being, not as an animal or insect.
The pastor said it would be great to open up their eyes to our Christian beliefs and lead them to Jesus. But seeing their deep spirituality, he wondered if they could have found God a long time ago.
What a sobering thought!